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Finland and the rise of populism, or where do all these stupid people come from?.

edited April 2011 in Politics
Less than two weeks ago we had parliamentary elections in Finland and the surprising result was that a previously marginal party (~5% share) of nationalistic socialists rose to become the third biggest party in a virtual tie of ~20% shares. This article in the Helsinki Times is a very good write up for those who are interested.

Comparisons to the Tea Party movement spring to mind even though there are plenty of material differences in the philosophy, political agendas, and electoral system. The one overwhelming common denominator seems to be that these people are if not stupid, then short sighted, small minded, and extremely irrational.

I have been party to the rise of anti-scientific sentiment in society for some time now and this is, in my view, an extension of that same mindset into politics, specifically fiscal policy and foreign affairs.

So, where is this coming from?


  • I don't know exactly where it comes from, and I don't think anyone else does either. I'm sure many academics are trying to figure it out. Obviously the media and the Internet have something to do with it, but the extent and source of it are far from clear.

    Oddly enough, I was just thinking along these lines literally less than a minute ago when I watched this video of Lawrence Lessig's presentation at CERN.

    I highly doubt it is the primary reason for the rise of anti-intellectualism, but it did make me think. Real scientific literature is largely not on the web. It's all locked up behind journals and paywalls. So far there haven't been any people with access through these paywalls who are willing to steal all these papers and illegally put them on bittorrent or whatever. As a result, when you search for anything scientific on Google you will not get a scientific paper as a result. Instead, you will only get blogs, woo, mainstream media, etc. Would having open access to all scientific papers online effectively Google bomb all the woo sites into oblivion? Would that reduce the amount of people believing in woo? Obviously most people wouldn't comprehend the papers if they even tried to read them, but still.

    I think one thing I can say for sure is that one major contributing factor is the unwillingness or inability of most scientists to contribute time or resources into taking things public. Wingnuts have all the time in the world to go on TV or write blog posts about homeopathy. Doctors and scientists are busy doing work. But maybe if they took turns actually trying to fight the wingnuts we would gain some ground instead of just ignoring them and letting them win.
  • So, where is this coming from?
    Sweden maybe? White power movements started cropping up in Scandinavia in the mid to late 80's, paralleling a resurgence of interest in paganism and "getting back to our roots," which itself is rooted in the rise of nazi punk. The extreme music scenes in both countries followed pretty closely. Sweden was particularly bad about it, with lots of neo-Nazi punk and extreme metal bands taking the lead.

    Quiet resistance to outside ideas has kind of been the norm in Scandinavia, hasn't it? It's not a culture that absolutely refuses to change, but it's something they fight.

    That might explain how it's come to Finland, but I think the bigger question is why we're seeing this as a growing global trend. Personally, I blame the Internet. More people than ever are being exposed to a broader range of ideas than has ever happened in the past. It is the norm to resist new ideas and change slowly. When you assail people with an avalanche of new ideas, I think it follows logically that a good chunk will take a fiercely oppositional stance.

    In other words, people's tiny little worlds are being threatened by lots of scary new ideas and rapid social change, changes that are coming faster than they've ever seen. The most immediate solution is to defend their little slice of the world as hard as they can.
  • Sweden maybe?
  • The most immediate solution is to defend their little slice of the world as hard as they can.
    "I shall let my fear pass through me and around me until only I remain"?
    OK, OK. Norway might play a small role.
  • Regarding Scott's "scientist fighting woo" thing, that still wouldn't really work. Scientists are, generally speaking, terrible at presenting an argument in media debate format. They tend to present their facts and findings and do as little speculation as possible because that is their job. Meanwhile, woo-pushers can flip the fuck out and spew nonsense, baseless speculation, and stupid extrapolations all over the place, which makes for much better TV and, unfortunately, actually gets through to people. Remember most people don't even know what a logical fallacy even is, so the layman actually doesn't have the tools to sort between science and woo; they'll go with the one who sounds more convincing to them.

    What we really need is education in logic in school. You teach people about all the sort of bullshit people will try to feed them in their life and how to sort through it in elementary school, and the woo problem will go away damn fast. Unfortunately, that's not a practical solution because of how incredibly controversial a class like that would be, so a more practical solution would be to have a scientific advocate agency or something, people who are trained enough to understand science while also being taught public speaking and debate and other communication skills. People like that could present the facts correctly while still dominating the conversation with woo-pushers on TV debates, editorials, and so forth. These people could also function as expert witnesses in court who could clarify scientific concepts for laymen much better than scientists themselves. However, public funding for scientific causes is tight enough as it is, it'd be difficult to keep an agency like that operating.
  • They tend to present their facts and findings and do as little speculation as possible because that is their job
    We also tend to get frustrated when people don't understand what we think is very simple logic. See the XKCD jelly bean comic. That's seriously how science is taken in the real world.
    while still dominating the conversation with woo-pushers on TV debates, editorials, and so forth
    Doesn't work. There are lots of great presenters trying to debunk woo. Woo is invincible because true believers are impervious to logic.

    Here's what I want to see: a strong public health education curriculum. Use that as the vehicle to teach critical thinking skills. Teach people how vaccines work, and how medical research works, and stuff like that. Teach them what it actually means for something to be not significantly different than a placebo.
    and the woo problem will go away damn fast
    Ahahahahahahaha. Someone is naively optimistic.

    It will not go away "damn fast," because peddlers of woo know a lot about psychology and the ease with which people can be emotionally manipulated into believing ridiculous things. The problem is that many many woo peddlers are smart scientists who use their knowledge for nefarious purposes. The layman doesn't stand a chance.
  • the woo problem will go away damn fast.
    Have you met Woo people? There are lots of ways to make it so a person believing woo is impervious to your "logical" rebuttal.
  • edited April 2011
    Damn fast may be an exaggeration, but you'd certainly see less of it after students are explicitly taught techniques to identify bullshit in school. While people will never stop believing stupid shit, and eliminating the possibility of anyone believing stupid shit is impossible, you can generally arm the majority of the public with the tools to make the important distinctions. When you teach people that nazis did bad things, you get less facists. You still get some facists, but they are discredited. In places where you do not teach about nazis doing bad things, you typically get more facists; in Japan where the magnitude of Japanese war crimes is not widely publized, there are lots of far right parties similar to the ones who supported the militant Japanese Empire. Compare to Germany, where, yeah, there are neo-nazis, but everyone hates them and their positions aren't taken seriously. It's the same thing.

    The worst part of woo is that regular people can't tell it's woo. It's not the hardcore homeopaths that keep it going, it's the larger number of clueless people who just don't know better and can't tell that it's not real medicine.
    Post edited by open_sketchbook on
  • Maybe it's not the fact that more people are believing in Woo. I mean, education has been shit for a long time. It could be that now the woo people are connecting to each other rather than being lonely woo. The only thing is, nerds have connected to each other much more than woo people have using the Internets, so how come the nerds aren't more powerful politically?
  • Because woo and nerds go together? E.g. Digg.
  • Because woo and nerds go together? E.g. Digg.
    Shit son.
  • If we want to get to the reason why woo and crazy is so hard to crack, it's pretty simple. It is how it is sold. So lets say you have this product that you say "Cures Cancer". You make a site that talks about how God provided this cure to his flock (appealing to religious types) and that the FDA won't approve it because of a big corporate conspiracy. Now when you present facts that this product is Bullshit. You present them with a study funded by the government or some grant or some corporation right?..... Oh wait you can't do that because the government is behind the reason why the product isn't know.

    Now the person who believes the woo, has been vaccinated against logic. They have been told that all areas that normally they would trust are in on the conspiracy and they should only trust these fringe sources. Independent review is rare and far between and I'm sure they are just in on the conspiracy to hide this product....
  • Shit son.
    Yeah, that's a pretty insidious problem right there. Woo is very counter-culture and a sort of "secret." Nerds love to have exclusive knowledge that other people don't, so they can "educate" other people. So you do a bunch of reading and convince yourself that this thing must be valid, because very few people know about it. You keep reading because it's all underground and secret and shit.

    Think about how many fucking nerds out there think it's a good idea to return to the gold standard.
  • edited April 2011
    Wow, Finland and Japan, more similar than you would expect in this regard. Aging population does not want immigrants to come in and dilute their culture, and the new global society causes a backlash among conservative elements who fear change? Sounds super familiar. Bummer, what the disappointed Finns are saying about their country ("maybe I should consider going abroad") mirrors my usual grumbles about the American right, usually ending with "Well, if they win, we can move to Scandinavia" or "Let's move to Finland if Sarah Palin gets elected." Nice to know that it is the same everywhere I would go. I don't understand why countries don't do a math and figure out how many immigrants they can add for maximum success, and do a balanced system based on what they can sustain. Japan, in particular, needs new workers, but they are so unwilling to open up because of fears of their culture being tainted.
    In my opinion, there are many benefits to allowing immigrants into a country. They introduce new food (I love me some kathi rolls and bahn mi for lunch!), new customs (thank you, Koreans, for spa castle!), and provide variety to a society. Stuff is easier when everyone is the same, but it is certainly more interesting when people are different. I think it is more challenging when there are many languages and cultural behaviors in the same space, but as long as there is some sort of basic communication people can use the benefits far outweigh the consequences. There needs to be effort both ways. Immigrants should not expect the country to fundamentally change for them, and should make an effort to engage in the society and assimilate linguistically and behaviorally to some extent. That's not to say that they have to give up their original language, but should be at the least bilingual to some degree. When I am in Japan, I never deny my culture, but I want to help everything go smoothly. I will cook carroway stew and read books in English, but I will also not wear my shoes indoors or be loud.

    edit: Also, those who fear "Sharia law" and other strict moral conservatism among the immigrants, I think when a group of people enter a society that is more free, more people go from the conservative to freedom than the other way around. In other words, more strict cultures will often relax over time, but very few times will you see the host culture becoming more strict.
    Post edited by gomidog on
  • where do all these stupid people come from?
    Their mother's womb most likely.
  • where do all these stupid people come from?
    Their mother's womb most likely.
    California...especially the LA area...they surround me! >.
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